There once was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will one day belong to me.”
The father did so and gave the younger son his blessing. “May you be fruitful in everything you do and enjoy the life you create for yourself.”
The son travelled to a far-off city, embarking on a career in business and investing his money to create an empire all of his own.
But then came economic downturn and crashed stocks. Left with some bad debts to the wrong people, the son was compelled to sell his assets and properties and was driven onto the streets, homeless in the city over which he had once lorded with impunity.
The father had not heard from his son once since he had left home, though he had kept track of his offspring’s rise in the business world. After the downturn, the father grew increasingly worried about his son, due to the absolute absence of reports on the one-time mogul’s activities. And so, the father set out, determined to find his beloved and discover what had become of him.
After much searching, the father tracked his son to an inner-city network of alleys and backstreets. There, amongst the dumpsters, the elder statesman spied a form almost too dishevelled to be regarded as human; the smell emanating from the shadowy figure indistinguishable from the surrounding garbage and bodily effluent that stained the dark laneway. But the father knew, instantly, that his search was over.
As he looked at his protégé, hunched near a dumpster and swigging from a bottle, covered in puke and piss, his heart was filled with compassion. “My son,” he said, his eyes brimming with tears, “I am so glad that I have finally found you. Today is a happy day!”
But the younger man did not share in his elder's delight. He had lived too long in the squalid conditions and did not dare to recognise this stranger standing in front of him. He had long repressed the memories of happier, more prosperous times; even of his childhood. All that ever came to mind now was the current hell that he found himself in. He launched a torrent of abuse at his kindhearted visitor and demanded that he leave.
But the father refused to concede to his request. “I know you, and I love you son. Come home with me. There is a warm shower, a soft bed and all the food you could dream of. Everything I have is yours. Come with me and see for yourself.”
The son flew into a rage. He was so full of hate that he could not handle such benevolence. He hated his life, he hated the world, he hated everyone in it. Fundamentally though, underneath all of his external fury, he hated himself. He blamed everything and everyone else for what his life had become, because he could not face his own guilt and shame.
Yet somehow, the old man’s kindness sliced through all of the lies he had told himself in order to shift the blame and mitigate his own sense of failure. He didn’t deserve such grace. He had made a complete mess of everything. He hated having this truth about himself brought to light within his consciousness. Reflecting on this reality was an even deeper hell than he anything he had ever experienced before.
And so, in his furious self-loathing, he sought to silence his inner turmoil by silencing the external spotlight that had illuminated the truth of his reality. He swung at the old man with the half empty bottle of cheap wine in his hand, striking his father in the side of the head.
The patriarch dropped to the ground, blood oozing from the fresh wound in his skull. The son had succeeded in silencing the external voice of love and acceptance, but not the inner judgment that it had stirred up. "Now look what I've done”, he thought, looking at the lifeless body on the ground before him. “I really am a good-for-nothing loser. I deserve this pitiful existence.”
As the son sat, contemplating ending his own life, his father began to stir next to him. “I thought I killed you!” the son yelped, taken aback by the sudden and unexpected movement beside him.
“It's ok son. It is not your fault,” the father said weakly. “You did not know what you were doing. I forgive you.”
“Why? Why would you forgive me? I am a horrible failure. Honestly, I would rather you had died than come back to taunt me again with your grace. Just leave me alone.”
But the father’s loving resolve was restoring his strength. “My son, nothing you could ever do would change my love for you. You are a part of me, and I could never be apart from you. My forgiveness has no requirement, nor does your ability to accept it change how I feel about you."
He pulled himself up against a dumpster and sat quietly in the muck next to his youngest child. If his boy was unable to come home, then, the father resolved, he would make himself at home here, in his offspring’s hell; loving him in his brokenness for eternity and bringing as much heaven to his torment as he possibly could. And maybe, just maybe, one day his beloved would find the courage to accept who he truly was and come home.
Russell has a heart for community and reaching out to the marginalised and forgotten. He is getting to know the God of infinite goodness and is living a joy-filled life with his wife Belinda and three children in South-East Queensland, Australia.
See all previous articles by Russell Croft